Nine Lightning players represent eight nations at the World Championships.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2001
Fredrik Modin knew there was going to be a celebration after Sweden won the 1998 World Championship. He just didn't realize the lengths to which his countrymen would go to cheer their heroes.
Modin said the team plane was escorted by two fighter jets as it flew in from Switzerland. Fifteen police cars led the team bus into the capital city of Stockholm and to the town square, where, Modin estimated, about 150,000 people waited to scream their approval.
"It was an unbelievable feeling," said Modin, who had three goals and three assists in Sweden's gold-medal run. "It's something you want to be part of again."
The Lightning's top goal scorer and eight others from the organization will have that chance beginning today, when the World Championships begin in Cologne, Nuremberg and Hanover, Germany.
Vinny Lecavalier and Brad Richards will play for Canada, Pavel Kubina for the Czech Republic, Alexander Kharitonov for Russia, Thomas Ziegler for Switzerland, Kaspars Astashenko for Latvia, Konstantin Kalmikov for Ukraine and Jimmie Olvestad for Sweden.
"It's serious," Modin said. "We're going there to win. Nothing else really exists. I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be fun."
"The more I think about it, the more I'm excited and nervous," Richards said. "But it's a good nervous. It's something very big."
But maybe not as big as it once was.
While Kubina called the tournament "the Stanley Cup of Europe," Modin said its prestige has slipped because of Europe's increased exposure to the NHL. He said fans realize many of the world's best -- such as Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic and Jaromir Jagr -- cannot participate because of the NHL playoffs.
Lightning coach John Tortorella said that should not diminish the tournament's significance.
"I think it's a feather in their cap for the organization to have some people from the Tampa Bay Lightning representing their countries," he said. "No matter what they do in the tournament, they're on a team representing their country, and that's fantastic. I'm looking forward to seeing it."
He also would like to see Lecavalier get his game in order, and so would Lecavalier. Injuries, a loss of confidence and a change of coaches contributed to a slump that saw the captain score just nine goals in his last 42 games.
Lecavalier said he hopes the bigger ice surface and wide-open international game will help him find his groove.
"Hopefully, I'll get a lot of my confidence back over there," he said. "I've had a little bit of trouble scoring sometimes, and hopefully that kind of hockey will help me, not necessarily to come back but to get the skills level.
"I will have more opportunity offensively than in the NHL because the NHL is so focused on defensive hockey, so I think it's going to be great."
Lecavalier and Richards were linemates during Canada's two practice games. Richards, the NHL's highest-scoring rookie last season, said he expects his game to get a boost as well.
"It's huge for my development," he said. "It's not the NHL, but that doesn't matter. Just imagine if I play in the gold-medal game. It's a big experience. It's not just like playing a regular game of hockey. Just watching the players on the team, playing with some of the best players in Canada, you learn so much."
Not that anyone has lost sight of the ultimate goal. For many, anything less than gold is not an option. Kubina said that is especially true of the Czech Republic, the two-time defending champion.
"It's the biggest tournament of the year, so the whole country will be watching," said Kubina, who played on the 1999 team. "I hope it won't happen, but maybe you can lose in the quarterfinals or something like that. The media and the whole country will be all over you."
Said Richards: "In Canada, it's religion. If you don't win gold, they don't care what you're going to do."
Even friendships will take a back seat.
Asked about playing against his teammates, Modin said, smiling, "That's fun, but they're not my teammates anymore. They'd better watch out."
For more information about the World Championships, check out these Web sites:
WHEN: Today-May 13.
WHERE: Cologne, Hanover and Nuremberg, Germany.
TEAMS: Group A -- Belarus, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland. Group B -- Austria, Finland, Japan, Slovakia. Group C -- Latvia, Sweden, Ukraine, United States. Group D -- Canada, Italy, Norway, Russia.
THE LOWDOWN: The top three teams in each group advance to the qualification round Friday-May 8 in Hanover and Cologne. Eight teams advance to the quarterfinals May 10. The May 12 semifinals and May 13 championship game are in Hanover.
TODAY'S SCHEDULE: (all times EDT) Switzerland vs. Germany at Cologne, 9:15 a.m.; Norway vs. Canada at Hanover, 10 a.m.; Belarus vs. Czech Republic at Nuremberg, 10 a.m.; Russia vs. Italy at Hanover, 2 p.m.; United States vs. Ukraine at Cologne, 2 p.m.; Austria vs. Finland at Nuremberg, 2 p.m.